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How (not) to Spend Thanksgiving in Florence

Happy Friday and welcome to another collaborative post with my beloved COSI (crazy observations by stranieri (foreigners) in Italy) blogger roundtable team. We took a short hiatus and now are back with a post every month on a common theme, each of us adding our own, sometimes awkward, points of view. We welcome a new member to the team so say hello to Andrea from Sex, Lies & Nutella, I liked her the second I saw the blog’s title. Also we are opening up COSI to anyone who wants to participate, just use the hashtag #COSI while sharing your post about our monthly subject, today’s being regional food with an options Thanksgiving tie-in.

Turkey day is coming up for us Americane and the anticipation of stuffing yourself into a lethargic coma, falling into said coma, only to do it all over again sounds pretty darn fun for most of us. That is what Thanksgiving is all about, all of the historical details are better left uncovered as they often don’t match up with the happy ‘coming-together’ holiday we all love so much. Since I have been in Italy, I have undergone all sorts of Thanksgiving celebrations with friends and (adopted) families.

Cue extremely high, unreasonable expectations (gulp). 

Is it just me or does living abroad only highlights the want, or actually the need, to celebrate these holidays in an over-the-top way even more. We immigrants grasp any moments to revel in our left-behind cultures allowing for things we would never do back home. This could mean garish turkey napkins, that awful sweet too-sweet-potato casserole and orange plastic cups with some sort of ‘felt’ turkey sticker. I’ve had those group dinners at restaurants with dry turkey (gross) and cranberry sauce from a jar.

I’ve done it wrong, I’ve done it right – at some times if I am 100% honest, I don’t remember what day it is anymore, as life revolves much more around the holidays in Italy. If you want to see what my very first thanksgiving in Italy looked like, in 2005, here you go. Hint to many: The first time you attempt a group dinner, ever, should not be on Thanksgiving.

2005, My friends taking the turkey out of the oven. Barely edible.

2005, My friends taking the turkey out of the oven. Barely edible but we found a turkey in Florence!

So flashback to a few years later, when returning to Italy was more of a long-term goal. This meant Thanksgiving was much more of an institution, to be celebrated yearly with good friends in merry good fun. What no-one tells you is just how hard it is to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 15-20 people in a country where you have to go on a ‘scavenger hunt’ for many of the products you need.

If you’re in Florence, Vivi Market will be your best friend, and you can get your turkey at the Central market in San Lorenzo.

Also you can order your turkey, cooked and stuffed from some places in town. I was very happy with my chestnut & sausage stuffed bird from a local rosticceria on via romana (info below). Just go in a week or two ahead to order your bird, they were more excited than I was about it ;-).

La Mangiatoia, Piazza San Felice 8-10 r., 50125, Firenze, Italia
+39 55 224060.

Now I will never, ever try and attempt such a large dinner by myself because it is just too much of a pain in the ass. Don’t believe me?

Thanksgiving Awkward Moments Round-UP

  • Traveling with a enormous turkey on the public bus with a bag that might have been leaking (luckily no-one sat to me on this dreadful journey)
  • Waking up at 6am to start cooking this asshole turkey
  • Getting turkey juice on my brand-new chiffon top from London, f&*&*#(_#[#_)#. Of course it never came out.
  • My first attempt at stuffing had to be thrown it away because I put too much thyme in it.
  • Carrying a cooked turkey (or let’s get real – having my boyfriend carry) our cooked turkey across the Ponte Vecchio to a friend’s house.
  • I forgot to buy water but instead had plenty of alcohol, great for me – bad for any non-American
  • After drinking too much I attempted to cover up the fact that I broke something made by my ex’s grandfather in a cabinet next to the dinner table. Shame Georgette Shame..
  • In order to make sweet potato casserole in the ‘traditional’ (with marshmallows) way, I ended up getting the multi-colored ‘fun’ bag from a local Blockbuster (which yes, still existed in Italy) resulting in a very scary looking casserole. I don’t even like sweet-potatoes made in this way
  • Arguing with my ex-boyfriend’s Italian mamma about hosting a dinner with my friends in the family house and for having to use the oven for so many hours, resulting in plenty of passive-aggressive ‘help’ from said mamma.
  • Having so many leftovers that I ended up throwing away most of this turkey in the outdoor dumpster at 2am so no-one would see
  • Spending more on a dinner than I do in a month for food and spending two hours cleaning it all up

When I think about it now, I don’t know why I didn’t incorporate more Tuscan autumn flavors? My alter-ego ‘Tuscan Texan’ would happily embrace that. I don’t even need to tell you how good the food is in this region because you probably already know. I would love to try mixing it up next time, using local ingredients such as my beloved, beautiful chestnuts (the flour can be used to make all sorts of interesting desserts, like the local ‘castagnaccio’ chestnut cake), mushrooms and if I could get my hands on it, truffles.

Make friends with someone who knows Tuscany’s woods like the back of their hand, because then you might be invited to a truffle/chestnut/mushroom hunt and dinner afterward. The worst that can happen is that you come face to face with one of Tuscany’s finest animals, the ‘cinghiale’ (wild boar) but no worries, they tend to be the frightened sort.

chestnut in italy | girlinflorence

Needless to say if you want a hassle-free Thanksgiving, either embrace your inner Martha Stewart and embrace the fact that you will need to go to a few different places to get everything you need for the dinner or just go to one of the events organized around town. The best Thanksgiving’s I have been a part of normally involve a sort of ‘pot-luck’ with friends doing a few dishes each to lessen the load on everyone. Can’t find the ingredients for crappy over-sweet casserole?

Use some of Tuscany’s finest (see above) to make a new & creative dish, see this article for tips. I was at Il Santo Forno bakery the other day and they made chestnut flour & apple muffins = heaven! Luckily The Florentine has done the work me and made this handy article on where to go for Thanksgiving, you can order the meal to your house or go out, the options seem pretty decent.

Also if you just want to go out and eat a massive hamburger at the food truck along the arno instead of slaving over the stove all day with leftovers you know you’ll never touch, that’s ok too.

I’d love to hear about your own Thanksgiving experiences abroad : good or bad. Comment, share and if you have some handy tips of your own, I am all ears (well one because technically I’m half deaf). 


This article is part of the COSI Blogger round-table that chats, snarks and writes about Italy in their own perspective. See their own holiday foodie thoughts

Winter is coming. Arm yourselves against Emilia’s arsenal of food.- Married to Italy
Foraging, Toxoplasmosis, And Eating Until You Die In Cassino, Italy– Surviving in Italy
Typical Products of Romagna‘ – Rick’s Rome
‘Nobody Leaves the Table Until They’ve Eaten So Much They Hate Themselves – The Florence Diaries
Unwilling Expat
Englishman in Italy

 

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27 Comment

  1. Reply
    Alexandra Lawrence
    14.11.2014 at 14:59

    Oh my gosh, this had me laughing out loud!! Can so identify…the first Thanksgiving my girlfriends and I did back in the day involved plucking the feathers off the entire bird that we had ordered weeks in advance from our local butcher. Butterball it was not.
    There is something about Thanksgiving in particular that really makes me want to celebrate here and yes, sometimes it goes well and sometimes you order Greek food from thefood.it and call it a day. Anxious to see what this year will bring 😉
    Great post, thanks for the laughs! xoxo

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      14.11.2014 at 15:38

      Alexandra Thanks so much for commenting, I am honestly impressed that you actually plucked your own bird. My first one definitely had a few feathers on it but the entire turkey? That’s a little scary! I still am not sure what we do this year, I am fantasizing about a huge platter of vegetarian nachos, a strong margarita and calling it a day.

  2. Reply
    Diana
    14.11.2014 at 17:47

    great post!
    the first thanksgiving that I ever did in Italy was at my inlaws place. I asked my mil to get a turkey, and when I went over to cook it, I could only find what I thought was a chicken. Nope. It was in fact the turkey.
    Last thanksgiving went really well. I used a turkey bag that I had sent over from the states, and a 7kilo turkey cooked perfectly in a couple of hours, with my doing nothing but spicing it up before sticking it in the oven. There were people at the dinner that don’t like turkey that came back for another plate.

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      15.11.2014 at 9:15

      hello Diana, thank you for reading & commenting! You have to educate me, what is a Turkey bag? Is this something I should be investing in? I think a lot of people have an idea of Turkey as a pretty boring protein but it’s all how you make it. I like doing it in the French style with oranges, thyme & rosemary and butter ;-). Always a fan favorite around here.

  3. Reply
    Isabel
    14.11.2014 at 23:09

    LOL! All true! But the best part is ordering a 8 to 10 kg whole turkey (now only at the rare pollivendoli): they look at you and ask twice “Intero?”…!!!!
    Well once, it was too big, it didn’t fit in the oven : had to chop it off a little and ended up with leftovers for one month after!
    Cheers
    Isabel

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      15.11.2014 at 9:12

      That was my biggest fear, what if the Turkey was too big for the oven but it looks like you figured it out. Lol, our local butcher looked at me like I was crazy when I first asked for a 12 pounder but now in Florence they have smartly begin to stock the big birds around the third week of November. Now to save cooking time, I often just order an already/cooked stuffed bird from a local rosticceria which is a lot cheaper than you might think, especially if you’re in a group ( I think we paid like 5 euros each in a group of around 10)

  4. Reply
    bonnie melielo
    15.11.2014 at 3:37

    Since a huge antipasti platter was what I grew up with (we only had it on Thanksgiving??) it would be easy for me to add a roasted bird of some kind, potatoes and veggies and call it good. I might miss the “green jello fluff” which has been a tradition since our kids were tiny, and you have to have a mince pie. Hmmmm, if I am going to be in Italy for Thanksgiving I might have to pack ingredients ahead of time. 🙂

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      15.11.2014 at 9:11

      That’s what a lot of my friends do, ifyou want some specific from home they have family members send them things in the mail even if now in most major cities in Florence you can find a lot already. cranberry jelly, stuffing mix, etc. You do have to make your own gravy but that is very easy. Now I just might do a Tuscan/American mix since I actually think it might be better. Our Christmas’s at home were always a combination of Mexican/American favorites. Turkey with a side of sauteed pinto beans 😉 and corn tortillas piping hot

  5. Reply
    Rick Zullo
    15.11.2014 at 3:42

    A few years ago, my uncle visited us in Rome from the US and we went to a Thanksgiving dinner at his friends’ house where they did their best to impress us with their American Thanksgiving table. Yes, they made turkey as the secondo, but otherwise the meal looked like every other typical Roman dinner from antipasto to dessert. I guess that’s about as close as it comes abroad…but the spirit of sharing a celebratory meal together is something that the Italians already do very well.

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      15.11.2014 at 9:08

      That sounds actually very nice. I think many holiday meals in Italy feel a bit like Thanksgiving and they happen a lot more frequently. Most Italiani I know absolutely adore the holiday and love celebrating with us, besides my own embarrassing follies, they all had a good time. Are you

  6. Reply
    Diana
    15.11.2014 at 11:37

    http://www.reynoldskitchens.com/products/oven-bags/turkey-oven-bags/
    It actually fit in the oven, and turned out really well. Before putting it in the bag, I just mixed some salt, sage and butter together and rubbed it in the turkey.

  7. Reply
    Alexandra
    15.11.2014 at 12:19

    Then There was the time that I mixed up pounds and kilograms… Ended up with a turkey the size of a medium dog, that had to be hosed down in the garden and barely fit in my oven…

    You could make life easier by attending the group Thanksgiving dinner organised by The Florentine… 😉

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      15.11.2014 at 20:22

      Wait wait wait, hose down in the garden? I hope you took a picture of that moment. I am thinking about going to The Florentine’s version but I’d like to do something little at home. Perhaps a Tuscam Texan Mexican Thanksgiving bash? Could be fun… 😉

  8. Reply
    Cassandra
    17.11.2014 at 7:20

    The image of you carrying a cooked turkey over the Ponte Vecchio is hilarious! The Italian mamma presiding over her kitchen while you stand guard over a cooking bird…well, not so much. Hope your small Thanksgiving gathering is perfect for you this year 🙂

    I’ve never been ambitious enough–or a sufficient lover of turkey–to undertake my own Thanksgiving meal. Luckily, I have been invited to several dinners with generous friends in Madrid, though. One memorable moment comes from a hostess who went Thanksgiving-crazy (in the best way possible) even though she didn’t have an oven. Somehow she finagled the use of her landlady’s oven…which was several blocks away! The turkey she cooked was so big that two or three people had to carry it back to the apartment. To top it off, said hostess was a vegetarian and could care less about eating the turkey. That’s dedication!

  9. Reply
    Diana
    21.11.2014 at 22:06

    I feel your Thanksgiving pain! I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving last month, which really made me realize how insignificant our holidays are here. Every shop I went to said they would have Turkey, and Pumpkin Pie, in time for Thanksgiving…in a month. Too bad I needed everything for the end of that week 😉 I did manage to stuff a large Turkey breast I bought from the bird butcher at St Ambrogio with homemade Chestnut stuffing (Tuscan Flavour, right?), and made cranberry sauce as well. The cranberries came dried from the Asian stall at the Sant’Ambrogio market. She was thrilled to discover (from me) what on earth those dried up red things were. She didn’t even know they were fruit, but knew they were American. I risked it, and they were good. After a nice soak and cook in orange juice and water the sauce was actually pretty good. My pumpkin pie was a pumpkin cake (imagine carrot cake) that I substituted out of desperation. The baker at Sugar & Spice on Borgo la Croce promised me that for the real Thanksgiving she’d have real pumpkin pie. If anyone is looking, I’d try sourcing it there since the Pumpkin Cake was actually pretty yummy. I would love to have a gathering next year, but there is no way a whole turkey would ever fit in my oven. Also, you are a champ for even offering to transport a fully cooked Turkey on foot across Florence. That deserves some sort of medal.

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      22.11.2014 at 10:07

      Hello Diana, thank you so much for sharing your own Thanksgiving experience. You have to really ‘love’ the day to go to that much effort (and I totally would, depending on who’s coming. My butcher also stuffed mine with a sort of chestnut and sausage stuffing that was really quite lovely, had bits of sage and everything. Cranberries are not commonly known here, I through a little shindig at my house last night and had dried goji berries and no-one had any idea what they were, but loved the way they tasted. The great thing about pumpkin is that it is quite easy to make but if you use pumpkin bought from the supermarket, you have to roast it first. I also like a pumpkin cheesecake or muffins. I sometimes outsource it to from Mama’s Bakery, they do a great job and I also love Sugar & Spice (great brownies).

  10. Reply
    matt
    27.11.2014 at 11:54

    Ciao Georgette. Great article.

    Cristina and I have been celebratiing Thanksgiving for almost 15 years in Italy. I am usually the only American. This year we will be about 20 fortysomethings with 10 to 20 kids. Don’t tell my Mom, but Cristina does Thanksgiving better than any American I have ever tasted. We have turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatos, puree of peas and sweet and sour onions. We obviously have a good source for pumpkin and pecan pie, but we also do a cheesecake too.

    One of my favorite moments is watching Italians first reaction to stuffing. Cristina’s chestnut based stuffing is wonderful, but it isn’t pretty. They always try a little to be polite and then go back and heap it on their plates.

    Now that we are super busy we outsource the turkey cooking to American Salad Company. They do a great job and they deliver.

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      27.11.2014 at 12:28

      You know what the fact that an Italian does Thanksgiving better than any American is kinda really awesome. Do you do a pumpkin cheesecake or regular? I am an addict but that base has to be just… right! I actually got my turkey fully-cooked and stuffed (chestnut and sausage) from a local rosticceria in the oltrarno which is a great deal if you have at least 8 or 10 people to share the price (we spent around 5 euros each). We are very lucky that in Florence there are so many (great) options! Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

  11. […] How (not) to Spend Thanksgiving in Florence – Girl in Florence […]

  12. […] Thanksgiving with Girl in Florence and Sex Lies and Nutella (who we warmly welcome to the COSI […]

  13. Reply
    Susan C
    08.05.2015 at 20:19

    My only Thanksgiving ever away from home was in Firenze. I think we did it right. A friend and I invited American and Italian friends and used his host mom’s kitchen (she also happened to be my boyfriend’s mamma). He pre-ordered the tacchino from the butcher & picked it up on the back of boyfriend’s scooter. We bought those ridiculous naked Renaissance painting aprons from Mercato Nuovo (he was David, I was a buxom Botticelli). We made mashed potatoes, chestnut stuffing, sauteed green beans & almonds. We used copious amounts of olive oil in place of butter. Had Tuscan bread, gelato, and espresso. Drank lots of wine. The Italian friends did the dishes. The only thing I really missed was canned cranberry jelly, which I had my mom bring when she visited a few weeks later. It was a pretty spectacular day.

  14. Reply
    Beatriz
    16.11.2015 at 18:27

    This had me laughing out loud! I can relate to a few of these things, like the pink and white marshmallows and spending a fortune at Pegna and Vivi Market! I was never brave enough to attempt a turkey so I just roasted two chickens instead. And one year we opted to go to Hard Rock Cafe and ended up getting super drunk and walked out of there with all the vegetables out of their decorative cornucopia in my handbag (oops).
    But I have find memories of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house with Italian friends because Italians are so good at being TG guests! Long dinner with tons of food? Free flowing wine? Lots of lovely conversation full of curious questions about the food and the holiday itself. Italians- they do that perfectly. Perfect guests.
    Now I live in Ireland and last year hosted my first (and last!) TG for my fiances family. The stress of it! It pales in comparison to my Italy thanksgivings! Over here people don’t worship food and family feasts the way Italians do. After hours of prep and cooking and so much money spent, it ended up being the most anti climatic TG ever. By the time I sat down ( I served myself last) everyone had already finished eating, no one asked me any questions about the food or the holiday, and everyone just ate and then left shortly after! I’m going out for sushi this year.

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      17.11.2015 at 9:42

      Ciao Beatriz! OMG those marshmallows, I’ve pretty much given up on that AND pumpkin puree. That’s actually quite smart regarding chickens, we went ahead and ordered ours from our local rosticceria. LOL regarding Hard Rock, that sounds like something I would do. You are right about Italians being appreciative, I’ve loved it the times I have hosted too it just was to much work and cleanup. I am sorry to hear about your experience in Ireland, that would really bum me out too, all that work and no reward.. I think sushi is the smart idea.

      1. Reply
        Beatriz
        17.11.2015 at 23:17

        Haha… Well live and learn, right 😉

  15. Reply
    masha caputo
    07.12.2015 at 16:06

    Hi: Just reading through the comments about Thanksgiving here in Florence,Itay. I’ve been doing Thanksgiving for a long time here and have found my turkey at Esselunga. I think you can also order them in advance.The better turkey is the female ,which is more tender and smaller. I also found the jams there and in the larger Esselunga stores they carry pecans. Since I am the owner of Sugar & Spice Bakery I don’t have a problem for the pies since we make pumpkin, apple and pecan pies for most of the US universities here and even the locals that live here .
    Hope this will helpful for next years Thanksgiving! Best, Masha of Sugar & Spice Bakery

    1. mm
      Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      08.12.2015 at 9:06

      Thanks for sharing your advice Masha – I love your bakery, I need to come visit you more :). Esselunga has stepped up their game recently and I am not surprised to hear they have turkeys. We ended up going with a rosticceria in town for the turkey which meant I had time to cook everything else, it was a good idea, and they did a great stuffing. You guys are indeed a good option for pies and cakes, will keep that in mind for next year.

  16. […] How (not) to Spend Thanksgiving in Florence – Girl in Florence […]

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